Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cites "scheduling conflict" for failing to attend his own trial where he is charged with tax fraud.
AFP- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reneged Monday on a vow to attend his own fraud trial in Milan as the media magnate's lawyers said he had a scheduling conflict.
The presiding judge read out a statement from the defence team saying that the prime minister was prevented from attending by "significant changes" to his programme and that, in any case, Monday's hearing would concern only procedural matters.
Berlusconi, 73, returned to public life last week after recovering from an assault in the northern city in December that left him with a broken nose and two broken teeth.
The prime minister and 11 co-defendants face charges of tax fraud and false accounting involving Berlusconi's media group Mediaset.
Prosecutors allege that Berlusconi, as Mediaset's majority shareholder, siphoned off a total of 280 million euros (400 million dollars) from the firm's coffers by using two offshore companies to purchase US television and movie rights and then re-sell them to Mediaset at inflated prices.
The alleged scam also allowed Mediaset to avoid taxes, prosecutors say.
If convicted, Berlusconi faces a prison term ranging from 18 months to six years.
The prime minister has pledged to attend the trial, one of two currently pending against him that have resumed after the Constitutional Court threw out an immunity law that he shepherded through parliament soon after his election in April 2008.
One of the co-defendants in the case is Berlusconi's former tax lawyer David Mills of Britain, who has been convicted separately of accepting a bribe of 600,000 dollars to give false testimony on the premier's behalf in two earlier trials.
Mills is appealing his conviction and a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence in that case.
Berlusconi, who avoided the trial under the now-defunct immunity provision, stayed away from its resumption last Friday. The next hearing in the case is on February 27.
The self-made billionaire has faced multiple legal battles since he burst on to the political scene in the mid-1990s but has never been definitively convicted.
Date created : 2010-01-18